Re: New phonemic writing system and IPA usage

From: Markus Kuhn (
Date: Fri Aug 20 1999 - 06:55:21 EDT

If one wants to really establish a new script for English, the most
important infrastructure necessary is a dictionary, i.e. a commonly
accepted orthography in the new script. Phonetic representations always
have some ambiguity (not only due to dialects), and considering that
readers recognise the shape of entire words and do not perform real-time
transformation into phonemes usually, a standard dictionary is essential
to allow people to learn reading efficiently in the new script.

Of all the various alternative script proposals, I personally believe
that a small and simple language-specific subset of the IPA is the best
way to go. Not only is it quite close to the Latin script, but it is
also culturally relatively acceptable because a significant fraction of
the population had already some exposure to it in school textbooks and
dictionaries (although few are actually familiar with it), and IPA has
already been carefully engineered to provide a suitable framework for
all languages. In addition, there are plenty of linguists available who
are well trained in using the IPA, as well as various teaching material.

Considering that with the UTF-8 introduction on Linux, I am now close to
being able to handle IPA as easily as ASCII, I'd be quite a bit
interested in training myself to reading both English and German
fluently in IPA. It would be nice if it became common practice on the
Web to explain to people how one's name is pronounced using IPA (as
opposed to the somewhat unscientific "Kuhn rhymes with moon" approach).
For English and German dictionary use, IPA is even usable without
combining characters. Much text that I consume (e.g., is available in machine readable form, so automatic
transliteration would certainly be practical. It would probably not be
too difficult to write a software that transliterates both English and
German into IPA reasonably well, if only I could find a freely available
online dictionary that contains an acceptable standard IPA orthography
for these language. Perhaps someone even has already written such a
program. Any recommendations?


Markus G. Kuhn, Computer Laboratory, University of Cambridge, UK
Email: mkuhn at,  WWW: <>

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